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X-rays Show Giant Dinosaur Was A Super Healer

May 9, 2014
Written by: , Filed in: Musculoskeletal Radiology
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Using X-rays much stronger than anything that could be used on living subjects, scientists have discovered that at least one long-extinct dinosaur possessed remarkable healing powers.

Even 150 million years after it died, the bones of an Allosaurus fragilis, a giant carnivorous dinosaur, contain chemical traces that allow researchers to distinguish whether the tissue has healed after having been damaged. This particular allosaurus, it turns out, recovered from massive trauma. Similar injuries would have killed a human if not treated, said Phillip Manning, PhD, a paleobiologist at the University of Manchester in Manchester, United Kingdom.

Such healing abilities are closer to those of modern crocodilians than they are to those of birds, which are dinosaurs’ actual descendants, Dr. Manning told Live Science. He said he and his colleagues plan to continue teasing out data from the bones of both contemporary and extinct specimens:

This is the starting point in a new line of research that has a long way to go when comparing the chemistry of bone between species, both modern and extinct. We are already looking at new techniques that might further expand our understanding of the growth, trauma, and healing of bones in vertebrates.

The researchers X-rayed a toe bone from the allosaurus, comparing it with bone from a modern relative: a Cathartes aura, or turkey vulture. They used incredibly powerful beams from the Diamond Light Source synchrotron at Oxfordshire, United Kingdom, and the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource in Menlo Park, California. They detailed their findings in an article published online Wednesday in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

The intensity of the X-rays creates incredibly detailed images that yield a wealth of information, said Dr. Manning, senior author of that article.

“This is beyond recognizing a healed injury,” he said. “This is mapping the biological processes that enable that healing. … To extend this into the fossil record might provide new insight on many groups of vertebrates, not just dinosaurs.”

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